For millennia, Christians have desired a proper interaction with the cultural context in which they live. Interaction with culture is one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith as we seek to be the “salt and light” we are called to be. Dr. Bruce Riley Ashford, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has added a short, wonderful work to the many books available. The book, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (Lexham Press, 2015), is the first of a three book series on Cultural Engagement by Lexham Press and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Ashford’s aim in the text is to “equip Christians to think holistically about how the gospel informs everything we do in the world” (Kindle Loc 117). Ashford rightly states that the Christian message cannot be separated into “sacred” and “secular” spaces. The Gospel of Jesus Christ should inform everything that Christians do, say, and think. This includes engaging with culture. The book has a “workbook” feel as at the end of each chapter there are “action points” which are questions for the reader to consider that relate to the topic of the chapter. Ashford also includes a recommended reading list for each chapter.
One’s position on cultural engagement takes one of three approaches, argues Ashford. One can argue that Christianity is “against” culture, “of” culture, or “in and for” culture. The first has clearly been seen in much of Christian history. Christians “against” culture, Ashford writes, are those who believe that the Church needs to be completely protected from the outside culture. This can be done either as a “bomb shelter” or “ultimate fighter” (Loc. 211). The second position seems to have increased over the past 50 years. This position argues that the Church should “mirror” culture and incorporate it, uncritically, into the Church (Loc 225-226). Finally, the third position argues that Christians should acknowledge that the “structures” of culture are good, but the “direction” of our culture is corrupt (Loc. 225-226). Ashford uses the rest of the text to show this to be true and then to show what it means for the Christian who holds this view of culture.
Ashford’s argument is based on a Creation, Fall, Redemption/Restoration framework of Scripture. At creation, all aspects of culture were good, both in the “structure” and “direction.” Since God said that everything was “very good” when creation was complete, we can know that the culture created at that point was good as well. Upon the fall, the structure of the culture was not corrupted, but mankind was corrupted in his use (and abuse) of the culture as an instrument directing away from God (Loc 375-376). Finally, in Redemption/Restoration, Ashford argues that, in Christ, even culture can be re-directed in a proper relationship towards God.
From this framework, Ashford shows how Christians can, and should, interact with several aspects of culture. Christians cannot be either fully separated from, nor fully at harmony with culture. One’s vocation, the arts, science, politics and economics, as well as scholarship are all areas where a distinctly Christian message must shine through if we are to be consistent with the transforming message of the Gospel.
This book is a short, well written work that would be easy to incorporate into a small group study. Christians would do well to pick up a copy of this book to see a biblically based position about how Christians should engage culture. Especially for those in the US, this book will be both enlightening and thought-provoking.